Helmet Mask, Mende Sierra Leone

Mende society is governed by a number of esoteric associations, foremost among which are the Sande women’s society and Poro men’s society. Both prepare young initiates for adulthood and make extensive use of masking. The helmet mask presented here, known as ndoli, represents a Sande guardian spirit. From generation to generation, such masks served to induct the new adults of the tribe into the next chapter of their lives, welcoming them to fully embrace the knowledge and lineage of their ancestors.

The classic features of the ndoli are all on show in the present example: a high, domed forehead over a small and serene face, bunched neck rings, and a fantastically detailed coiffure, all of which express a vision of idealized beauty. Brass applications adorn the brow and crown with bright accents. Relief-carved details wrap around the entirety of the head, with a layered double braid motif spanning from temple to temple over a striated underwork. Five semi-discs form the crown-like top of the coiffure, conferring a regal and resplendent impression that is a quintessential quality of these masks. The finial is believed to represent a bush cow horn.

Daniel Mato and Charles Miller III: SANDE masks and statues from Liberia and Sierra Leone illus p 51

Early 20th century
Wood, metal, pigment
Height: 14 in; Width 9 ¼ in

Charles D. Miller, III, St. James, New York, USA, collected in the 1970s
Private collection, USA

Item Number:
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